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The modern bronze age

A moving experience is in store at the first-ever show in Britain of Marino Marini's sculptures. His mythic horses penetrate to the core of 20th century sensibilities. The display of his work in a variety of media at the Accademia Italiana near Hyde Park corner is intimate and exciting and wonderfully sensuous.


It is a special chance to view just one of a talented group of sculptors active during the war and post-war period in Italy. Marini's work reminds us of others in Europe, such as Alberto Giacometti, Giacomo Manzu, Emilio Greco and Henry Moore in Britain who in different ways reacted to the convulsions of their times, expressing them through the human body itself.


The 40 medium-sized, sculptures, mostly in bronze, stand close to us with strong effects of light and shadow. Although the themes are symbolic and monumental, here we can see them as in a grand private home, demanding to be experienced, touched and felt.


The focus is always on three themes; the horse and rider, the female body and the portrait. But it is above all through his horses and riders that Marini navigates his way through the 20th century.
At times the horses have a full-bellied Chinese classicism.

Sometimes they have the grace of archaic Greek art. But they are also very much of our time as they express the extremes of exhaustion, exhilaration, rest and resistance.


Marini emerged from the war making images of powerful riders and fecund women. The horses from around 1948-1950, their long necks stretching upwards, symbolise a renewed hope as Europe emerged from fascism and wartime devastation.


But in the early 1950s Marini's message changed as he began to use jagged planes in a Cubist idiom to place horse and rider in violent conflict with each other. Sometimes the horse is collapsing, sometimes trying to throw off the rider. The human being strives to stay upright, to survive. An enormous energy comes out of the straining forces.


Marini said his horse sculptures were intended to "denounce the crises caused by the events of this century". The dynamic movement of man and horse are enhanced by the care Marini takes with his bronze surfaces. Varied textures and a strong distribution of colour also appear in his lithographic posters and paintings.

The struggling agony of his horses and riders in bronze is offset by classical forms which delight by their fresh colours and sense of unspoiled innocence. Like Picasso, who clearly inspired him, Marini had a strong sense of history. He combed through the past to search out fresh new images that still speak to us today.

This review first appeared in Socialist Future